Medical Encyclopedia


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Contents of this page:

Alternative Names   

Blood poisoning; Bacteremia with sepsis

Definition    Return to top

Septicemia is the presence of bacteria in the blood (bacteremia) and is often associated with severe disease.

Causes    Return to top

Septicemia is a serious, life-threatening infection that gets worse very quickly. It can arise from infections throughout the body, including infections in the lungs, abdomen, and urinary tract. It may come before or at the same time as infections of the bone (osteomyelitis), central nervous system (meningitis), or other tissues.

Symptoms    Return to top

Septicemia can begin with spiking fevers, chills, rapid breathing, and rapid heart rate. The person looks very ill.

The symptoms rapidly progress to shock with decreased body temperature (hypothermia), falling blood pressure, confusion or other changes in mental status, and blood clotting problems that lead to a specific type of red spots on the skin (petechiae and ecchymosis).

There may be decreased or no urine output.

Exams and Tests    Return to top

Physical examination may show:

Tests that can confirm infection include:

Treatment    Return to top

Septicemia is a serious condition that requires a hospital stay. You may be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU).

Fluids and medicines are given by an IV to maintain the blood pressure.

Oxygen will be given. Antibiotics are used to treat the infection.

Plasma or other blood products may be given to correct any clotting abnormalities.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Septic shock has a high death rate, exceeding 50%, depending on the type of organism involved. The organism involved and how quickly the patient is hospitalized will determine the outcome.

Possible Complications    Return to top

Septicemia can rapidly lead to adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), septic shock, and death.

Septicemia associated with meningococci can lead to shock, adrenal collapse, and Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome.

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Septicemia is not common but is devastating. Early recognition may prevent progression to shock.

Seek immediate care if:

Call your health care provider if your child is not current on vaccinations.

Prevention    Return to top

Appropriate treatment of localized infections can prevent septicemia. The Haemophilus influenza B (HIB) vaccine has already reduced the number of cases of Haemophilus septicemia and is a routine part of the recommended childhood immunization schedule.

Children who have had their spleen removed or who have diseases that damage the spleen (such as sickle cell anemia) should receive pneumococcal vaccine. Pneumococcal vaccine is not part of the routine childhood immunization schedule.

Persons who are in close contact with someone with septicemia may be prescribed preventative antibiotics.

Update Date: 7/25/2007

Updated by: Kenneth M. Wener, MD, Department of Infectious Diseases. Lahey Clinic, Burlington, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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